Federal law looms large in Native American child custody matter

Last updated on April 8, 2021

Georgia has a sizable Native American population, and a recent family law dispute in neighboring South Carolina underscores the importance of noting that in select adoption proceedings.

A child custody dispute that is unfolding between an adoptive South Carolina couple and the Cherokee Nation highlights just how important it can be to note and account for Indian lineage and tribal blood when it is present in an adoption, wherever the adoption occurs in the United States.

In the South Carolina case, the couple adopted a baby girl in 2009, with the birth mother signing away legal rights in the adoption. No mention was made of Indian heritage.

The birth father, however, is a Cherokee Indian, and he began pressing for full custody rights in 2010 through the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). That federal legislation was enacted as a tool for promoting the continuing stability and culture of American Indian tribes.

The birth father, represented by the Cherokee Nation, was ruled earlier this month to have full custody rights over the child, and she was removed from her South Carolina home and placed with him in Oklahoma.

In a statement issued by the Cherokee Nation, an attorney employed by the tribe stated its commitment to “work tirelessly to fight for the rights of Cherokee children and their parents … in tribal, state and federal courts across the nation.”

The adoptive couple, while acknowledging the intent of the ICWA, says it is “being abused” in their case, with removal not being in their adopted daughter’s best interest.

Source: Fox, “SC couple fights for custody of adopted child now in OK” Paluka, Jan. 5, 2012

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